Asian cultures are famously respectful of teachers. The Chinese characters for the term are “old” + “soul,” even on the Mainland. The Japanese sensei is also used as the most honorific form of address. The prime minister, for example, is called sensei, teacher. And nowadays in the West no one needs to explain the respect contained in the East Indian term guru.
Yet Asian traditions also understand the limitations of even the most outstanding human teacher. One of the sayings of the Buddha has him telling his monks, “Do not believe what your teacher tells you out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings—that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide.” Twelve hundred years later, the great Hindu sage Shankara wrote, “A clear vision of Reality may be obtained only through our own eyes when they have been opened by spiritual insight—never through the eyes of some other seer. Through our own eyes we learn what the moon looks like: How could we learn this through the eyes of others?” My own spiritual guide, the Javanese mystic Muhammad Subuh (d. 1987), once said that his role in bringing the Subud spiritual practice to us was like that of a school janitor who straightens up the classroom, cleans the blackboard, and makes sure there’s an adequate supply of chalk and erasers. But our true teacher, he said, is the Great Life Force itself, or God, who would act in each of us directly. In the same way, the True Teacher is not someone out there but rather, like Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven, something within. That’s why Sharon Clark’s and my just-published book (7/26/2019) is called Wisdom for Living—Learning to Follow Your Inner Guidance.